Hannah Upp: Dissociative Fugue and the Jason Bourne Syndrome

Close your eyes. Imagine, for a moment, that you aren’t yourself.

Not that you’re someone else – you’re you, but you don’t know who you are. You don’t know your name, or where you live, or who your best friend was when you were 12. It’s hard, isn’t it?

This is what happened to Hannah Upp. In 2008, she disappeared for three weeks after leaving her apartment in New York City to go jogging. After this incident, she was diagnosed with dissociative fugue, a condition that causes her to temporarily lose all sense of who she is.

In 2017, she disappeared again, and no one has seen Hannah since.

Who is Hannah Upp?

Hannah Upp, who was 32 at the time of her most recent disappearance, was the type of person who would light up a room.

Her friends and family describe her as outgoing and passionate. One of her friends told a reporter, “Everyone you talk to is going to say she is their closest friend. She has no barriers. She was raised to trust and care for everyone, and she did.”  She loved cooking, going to concerts, taking road trips, and the ocean. She was a teacher, and a great one at that.

“Whenever we do a tour for a new family, the first classroom we visit is Hannah Upp’s. She’s one heck of an example. She’s not just a Montessori teacher, she’s a passionate Montessori teacher.” – Michael Bornn, head of the Virgin Islands Montessori School where Hannah was working before her 2017 disappearance.

Hannah Upp

On August 8, 2008, Hannah disappeared for the first time.

She left her apartment to go jogging along Riverside Drive and didn’t return. Her wallet, passport, MetroCard, and phone were found in her purse on the floor of her bedroom – it certainly didn’t look like she had planned to disappear. Her friends and family searched high and low for her, putting up thousands of flyers around the city.

She had been missing for about two weeks when she was spotted at the Apple Store in midtown Manhattan. Her mother, Barbara Bellus, identified her from the security footage. She was wearing a sports bra and running shorts, and her hair was pulled into a high ponytail.

A man stopped her and asked if she was the missing teacher from the news, but she appears to blow him off. Another camera captured her using one of the laptops in the store to log into her Gmail account, looking at the screen for a second before walking away.

Two days later, she was seen at a Starbucks in SoHo, but by the time police arrived, she’d walked out the back door. Sightings were also recorded at five New York Sports Clubs, where the detective investigating her disappearance thought that she might have gone to shower.

On September 16, three weeks after her disappearance, the captain of a Staten Island Ferry saw a woman floating facedown near Robbins Reef, a lighthouse situated on a rocky island near the Statue of Liberty. Two deckhands took a rescue boat out to her. When they lifted her out of the water, she gasped for air and began to cry.

She was taken to Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island, where, after being asked questions by medical staff, all she could tell them was that her name was Hannah and gave them her mother’s phone number.

Despite multiple interviews by police and reporters and hypnosis, Hannah had no memory of the time she was missing or any events that could have triggered it. She was diagnosed with dissociative fugue, a rare form of amnesia.

“It’s weird. How do you feel guilty for something you didn’t even know you did? It’s not your fault, but its still somehow you. So its definitely made me reconsider everything. Who was I before? Who was I then – is that part of me? Who am I now?” – Hannah Upp


Dissociative Fugue

Dissociative fugue is a rare mental illness that falls into a group of conditions known as “dissociative disorders”. The word “fugue” comes from the Latin word for flight – the word is apt, considering that one of the most distinct symptoms of the condition is sudden or unexpected travel away from home.

Experts believe that sufferers of this condition temporarily lose access to their autobiographical memory and personal identity.

It’s been linked to severe stress, which could be the result of past or present traumatic events. The abuse of alcohol or certain drugs can also induce a fugue-like state, such as alcohol-induced “blackouts”.

The condition is relatively rare, with the frequency of diagnoses increasing during stressful periods, such as wartime or after natural disasters. The most famous sufferer of the disease is Jason Bourne – the fictional protagonist of the Bourne Identity franchise.


Here and Gone Again

Hannah UppHannah left New York City in 2010, eventually becoming a teaching assistant in Montessori schools, including one in Maryland, where she had another episode in September 2013 and disappeared for 2 days. The next year, she moved to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands for a new teaching job at the Virgin Islands Montessori School.

Most of her friends on the island said that she loved living there and loved her job. All was well until 2017 – Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean, with Hurricane Maria striking less than a week later.

During this chaos, on September 14, Hannah disappeared again. She left her apartment to go for a morning swim at the nearby Sapphire Beach. According to a note left for her friends, she then planned to go to the school and help prepare for the hurricane.

However, she never showed up at the school. The next morning, a construction crew found her car keys and clothes by the beach. Two days after that, her car, with her phone, wallet, and passport inside, was found in the beach’s parking lot.

At the time, it was uncertain whether Hannah’s disappearance was because of another fugue episode or just because the island was in chaos because of the multiple hurricanes. Her family released a statement at the time saying, “Our beloved Hannah has disappeared. We do not know what has happened and we are hopeful that she will be found alive and well. Our thoughts and prayers are with Hannah and all those who continue to search tirelessly for her. We know our fear and uncertainty is shared by many others, and our hearts go out to all who wait.”

But as time passed, Hannah’s whereabouts remained unknown. Her family and friends canvassed the airport, hospitals, homeless shelters, and the morgue around the Virgin Islands, but no trace of her has surfaced. She remains missing to this day.


What Now?

Her family maintains the Find Hannah Upp page on Facebook and holds out hope that she is out there somewhere, perhaps under a new identity. She is also the subject of an episode of a docuseries produced by A&E Networks called The Untold Story, which is hosted by documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Vargas.

Her family was apprehensive about supporting this program, but eventually released a statement stating that they did support it, on the grounds that, “If Hannah is still out there somewhere, we never know what unexpected connection may lead us to a clue to locating her again.”

Hannah Upp is currently 34 years old. She is 5’7 with light brown hair and brown eyes. She has a triangular tattoo with a wave inside it on the inner side of her right ankle. She was last seen on September 14, 2017 in St. Thomas. If you have any information about her whereabouts or disappearance, please contact Detective Steve Wagner at (724) 591-0675, or email [email protected].

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